This is the third post in a multiple part series. For the introduction and table of contents, see part 1.

Waking Up From the Food Trance

One place where many operate in an automatic fashion is around food. Our relationship to food is complex; it is affected by early conditioning from our parents, socio- economic status, mood, activity, body image and more. The prevalence of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabeties have also been linked to diet. Last, eating disorders have been increasing in rate for several decades across many segments of the population in the US. It is clear that many, young and adult alike, have a troubled relationship with eating and food. We can call this troubled relationship, the food trance.

A common method employed to deal with food related issues is food restriction through dieting. According to Hawks (2005) dieting is often ineffective and does not lead to sustainable change. Further, restricted eating may even lead to such negative outcomes as, “weight recycling, altered body composition, heightened fat storage potential, decreased resting metabolism, dysfunctional relationships with food, increased risk of eating disorders, low self-esteem, and an overall sense of failure among dieters.”

Following Deikman, I suggest that dieting, and other related methods like increased exercise, do not work because they fail to wake us up from the food trance. Dieters may see short term changes but eventually this short period of “awakening” is over and they return to their automatic way of relating to food.

In recent decades, the concept of intuitive eating has been gaining in popularity. According to Hawks (2005) intuitive eating suggests that “individuals have within themselves a natural mechanism that if allowed to function will ensure good nutrition at a healthy weight.” (Tylka 2006) studied intuitive eating among college women and describes the following core features:

  • Unconditional permission to eat when hungry and what food is desired.
  • Eating for physical rather than emotional reasons.
  • Reliance on internal hunger/satiety Cues to determine when and how much to eat.

Intuitive eaters re-learn to eat when hungry and to stop when full. Intuitive eating invites us to let go of stories about what food is acceptable or unacceptable. With that out of the way, we are can decide for ourselves, based on input from the body, what to eat, how much to eat, and when. Intuitive eating requires that we re-invest the act of eating with awareness. Bringing awareness to the urge to eat allows us to look at the underlying structures behind our relationship with food. In fact, awareness of the emotional aspects of eating, is a core feature of intuitive eating. Learning to trust internal cues of hunger and satisfaction brings our awareness to old patterns of eating. Why do we eat more or less? Perhaps we are replaying patterns from our childhood or maybe we are being manipulated by ideas of body-image we’ve absorbed from the media. Reinvesting awareness into these decisions serves to wake us up from this part of the food trance.

In a study from 2006, (Smith & Hawks) discovered a correlation between high intuitive eating scores and 1)higher levels of enjoyment of food, and 2)fewer food anxieties. The second factor, reduction in food anxieties, shows that participants with higher intuitive eating scores are less caught up in the social and personal food trance. The first factor is similar to a one that Deikman (1966) noted in relation to de-automatization as a result of meditation: “The undoing of automatic perceptual and cognitive structures permits a gain in sensory intensity and richness at the expense of abstract categorization and differentiation.” This conclusion would certainly be in keeping with the core features of intuitive eating I’ve listed above.


Deikman, A.J. (1966). De-automatization and the mystic. Psychiatry: Journal for the Study of Interpersonal Processes, 29.4

Hawks, S.R. (2005). The Relationship Between Intuitive Eating and Health Indicators Among College Women. American Journal of Health Education, Volume 36(6) pp. 331-336.

Smith T. & Hawks S.R. (2006). Intuitive eating, diet composition, and the meaning of food in healthy weight promotion. American Journal of Health Education, Vol. 27(3).

Tylka T.L. (2006). Development and Psychometric Evaluation of a Measure of Intuitive Eating. Journal of Counseling Psychology. Vol. 53, No. 2, 226–240.